11 September, 2023
Business and Human Rights
Dr. Oyeniyi Abe’s book, Implementing Business and Human Rights Norms in Africa: Law and Policy Intervention, is a timely intervention in the field of business and human rights. The book focuses on interpreting and implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in Africa through legal and policy frameworks.
Abe’s book discusses the challenges associated with the utilisation of business and human rights principles in development projects in Africa using South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria as case studies. The author uses the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) as a benchmark in making a case for human rights approach in the implementation of development projects in Africa. The author highlights the legal challenges of business and human rights in the extractive industry while underscoring the increasing significance of the implementation of a human rights approach in corporate governance regimes in the spotlighted nations. Many economies in Africa are heavily dependent on telecommunication, energy, extractives and the financial industries. Corporations in these industries often undertake activities with significant social, environmental and human rights implications.
The recently released book by Oyeniyi Abe: Implementing Business and Human Rights Norms in Africa (Routledge 2022) is a comprehensive analysis of human and environmental rights impact of business activities in Africa. The book discusses conceptual and practical issues arising in the Business and Human Rights (BHRs) landscape in Africa. Furthermore, the book contains instructive developments on competing theories on corporate international human rights obligations and the range of remedies available to rights holders and 'victims' of corporate misconduct. Even more, commanding is the author's choice to present in accessible manner case studies of Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.
The discourse on corporate accountability for human rights violations has been shaped to a great extent by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) (UNGPs), resulting from the work of John Ruggie, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights. The UNGPs were endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011 and rest on three pillars: the State duty to protect against human rights violations; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights in their operations; and greater access by victims to effective remedy, both judicial and non-judicial, for human rights violations. While the focus on the second pillar i.e. the corporate responsibility to respect human rights is increasingly scrutinized, it has mostly been done in Western academic contexts. A long overdue African perspective on what this second pillar means and entails, is starting to take shape given that the African continent continues to be the breeding ground for many human rights atrocities attributed to corporations. In this respect, Abe’s book is a meaningful welcome contribution from the legal perspective on these issues.
This remarkable book on business and human rights norms in Africa, is written in three parts. Part one, examines the key contexts and principles which underpin the nature and scope of business and human rights in Africa, and the relevant corporate governance theories and regulations. Part two, proposes human rights-based approach (es) to business and human rights in Africa and examines the human rights corporate duty to respect, the integration of such a rights-based approach in development and the question of access for effective remedies. Finally, part three, examines the implementation of the protect, respect, and remedy framework in Africa’s energy and extractive sectors, with particular focus given to three focal jurisdictions in Africa: Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya.
Dr Oyeniyi Abe’s book, Implementing Business and Human Rights Norms in Africa: Law and Policy Interventions is the foremost and authoritative text on the contentious question of the critical connections between business and human rights, and the implementation of socially responsible norms in Africa. The lucidity of the book derives significance from the clear and logical articulation of the various pathways developing countries can leverage huge abundance of natural and human resources for sustainable development. Abe’s book, therefore, serves as a critical expose of legal, institutional, and policy discourses established by states, and corporate entities to safeguard implementation of socially responsible norms. Abe’s systematic exploration of the global challenges confronting companies and how they are responding to those challenges provides a clear roadmap towards achieving the full implementation of the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in Africa
Businesses operate in a globally complex, yet uncertain environment with increasing risks in numerous domains. While it is important and necessary for businesses to be able to continue to operate in these challenging times, it is essential that companies understand human rights risks of their conducts, measures to prevent, address and mitigate such risks, as well as rules and regulations to manage corporate obligations to respect human rights risks in a consistent manner. Furthermore, as the world faces tremendous challenges, including intra and inter-state conflicts, living crisis, environmental disasters, climate change, and the debate on energy justice and transition, this book argues that African states must promote investment opportunities and safeguard trade regimes that do not create the space for corporate induced human rights violations. It considers that development approach must be anchored on indices that deliver economic growth, is environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive.
Using the question of justice in the digital space to assess current liability regimes, we interrogate the conventional liability regime based on liberal political theory, identify its shortcomings for dealing with the questions of justice raised by the digital space, and propose an alternative to address the identified shortcomings through an alternate perspective of responsibility inspired by the African ethics of duty. This perspective can contribute to the improvement of access to justice and re-center the African ethics of duty in the conversation around quest for justice.
This symposium aims to encourage a more systematic and critical scholarly engagement with the delocalization of justice in BHR cases involving harms suffered in African states, and the Global South more broadly. It is our contention that until now, with some notable exceptions, scholarly debates in the BHR sphere have insufficiently focused on the justification for, effectiveness of, and alternatives to this uprooting strategy. Yet, this delocalization lies at the heart of many legal processes and regulatory mechanisms aimed at delivering justice (or corporate accountability) in the Global North for harms that occurred in the Global South. Interrogating this delocalization, and imagining alternative strategies that would enable local populations to gain greater agency through local political and legal processes, should be at the core of scholarship and activism in the BHR field.